Eric Moe: Strenuous Pleasures

, composer


Pittsburgh based composer Eric Moe releases Strenuous Pleasures, a collection of chamber music written in the decade 2010-2020. Featuring performances by counter)induction, Da Capo Chamber Players, Horszowski Trio, cellist David Russell, and saxophonist Elliott Riley, this recording demonstrates Moe’s seamless navigation between ecstatic, complicated rhythmic material and flowing, lyrical music, as well as his unique approach to musique concrète within the electro-acoustic realm.


Eric Moe is captivated by nature and the scientific world. One can see this orientation transparently in his sources of inspiration for three of the works in this collection. But looking more closely at the music itself, Moe revels in creating systems of behavior that allow musical materials to interact with each other in a kind of free dialogue (inasmuch as music that is pre-written by a composer is “free”). Throughout these works, we hear Moe establish musical relationships, and then liberate them, allowing the molecules of sound to collide with each other. His music strives also for a kind of organic balance, tempering visceral impulses with gentle ones, but never allowing the music to become static. The composite result is music that can feel like it flows like water, shaped but not interfered with by its creator, despite the meticulous manner in which it was conceived.

Strenuous Pleasures for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion opens with a percolating fanfare of sorts, a multi-layered texture of intertwined contrapuntal lines, primary sustained notes that form a composite melody, and an off-kilter, martial snare drum part. The instruments weave through fields of harmony as if they are splashes of color on a vibrant canvas. Moe contrasts this energetic opening with flowing, lyrical material, though even in the expressive moments, the piece never loses kinetic energy, perhaps emblematic of the inclusion of the word “strenuous” in the title. The closing section reprises the vigor of the opening, though here Moe features individual instruments more than in the opening, giving each a moment to step out over a funky drum set part.

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Deep Ecology, for cello and fixed electronic media, references an environmental philosophy that emphasizes interdependence between humans and the natural world. For the electronic materials, Moe assembled sounds from various creatures in the natural world and combined them with instrumental sounds that imitate the animal world. The cello plays the role of interloper, perhaps initially analogous to the manner in which humans interfere with the natural ecosystem. As the piece evolves, the electronic sounds assert themselves on the environment in which the cellist must play and adjust, and through this push and pull, the relationship becomes steadily more symbiotic and the cellist subsumes its individuality into the overall texture.

Spirit Mountain, one of two works on the program performed by the Da Capo Chamber Players, is based around a Nepalese court song sung by Tashi Tsering that Moe discovered from a recording made by composer Andrea Clearfield and anthropologist Katey Blumenthal. In the original song, the solo vocalist is accompanied by a hand drum, a texture Moe introduces after an introductory presentation of fragments of the melody with choked cymbals and crotales. The double reeds (oboe/English horn and bassoon) lend a tart focus to the ensemble sound. As in Strenuous Pleasures, Moe extends complex harmonic areas by moving instruments around to different chord tones and registers and using non-repetitive syncopated rhythmic materials that drive the direction forward.

What Instruments Have We Agree for clarinet, violin, viola, and piano and performed by counter)induction, is written in memoriam to composer Lee Hyla, a good friend of Moe’s and a pivotal figure in American contemporary music of recent decades. The work opens with sinewy, mournful lines in violin and bass clarinet before a rumbling, angular piano solo asserts itself with truncated utterances. The ensemble absorbs the halting phrase patterns but the piano continues to lead the way into more snarled passagework. A disjointed ensemble section follows, as unbridled emotion is projecting in the irregular patterning in the music. The piece closes with insistent repeated notes in the strings and hollow melodic figures in the bass clarinet and piano, the inescapable imperative that we must continue to move forward after a painful loss.

Demon Theory, for saxophone and piano and performed here by Elliot Riley and Moe, is framed by a thought experiment from physicist James Maxwell that speculates on the behavior of an entity on two connected systems. As with Deep Ecology, Moe has a penchant for using musical parameters to explore and illuminate a set of ideas. Here the two connected systems are the saxophone and piano themselves; the piano opens the piece with a taut ostinato punctuated by a percussive strike before the sax joins with a jaunty figure of intervallic leaps and a central sustained pitch. A contrasting section features a flowing saxophone melody over watery, closely spaced piano voicings. Each instrument gets a soloistic turn, first with the piano playing a literal solo of crystalline high register chords before the sax joins for a rhapsodic, accompanied passage. The sharp corners of the opening merged with the linear fluidity of the middle section combine for a rousing, energetic close that pulses with synergistic energy between the instruments.

Also inspired by the world of physics, Welcome to Phase Space, written for and performed by the Horszowski Trio, refers to astrophysicist Shrinivas Kulkarni’s study of luminosity in novae and supernovae. Moe’s introduction glows with illuminated harmonies in the piano and trills that bristle with compressed energy. An emerging cauldron of accented, virtuosic figuration grows in all three instruments, articulating the sparkling dynamism of the cosmos. As in the title piece, Moe tempers the vigorous music with tender lyricism, assigning the strings a long-limbed line over portentous trill figures in the piano. Moe zooms in on subsections of the ensemble with a poignant piano solo followed by a jaunty passage for violin and cello, before bringing the instruments together again for joyfully interlocking independent lines and a tender closing section. Welcome to Phase Space strikes an entrancing balance between the unfathomable power of space and our deep wonderment in its presence.

– Dan Lippel

Strenuous Pleasures:
Recorded March 22, 2019, at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York
Produced and engineered by Judith Sherman
Engineering and editing assistant: Jeanne Velonis
Steinway technician: Michael Talley

Deep Ecology:
Recorded January 23, 2022 at Joel Gordon Audio Recording Studio
Joel Gordon, producer

Spirit Mountain:
Concert recording at Merkin Concert Hall, NYC, April 6, 2022

What Instruments We Have Agree:
Recorded March 29, 2023, at Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon, NY
Producer and Engineered by Ryan Streber
Editors: Ryan Streber, Charles Mueller

Demon Theory:
Recorded October 10, 2015 at SWR Studio, Freiburg, Germany
Christoph Ruetz, producer

Welcome to Phase Space:
Recorded September 20, 2016, at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York Produced and engineered by Judith Sherman
Engineering and editing assistant: Jeanne Velonis
Steinway technician: Joel Bernache

Mastered by Ryan Streber, Oktaven Audio

Cover image: Birdcall and Mountains 2023 by Laurie Fader
Design, layout & typography: Marc Wolf,

Eric Moe

Eric Moe (b. 1954), composer of what the NY Times has called “music of winning exuberance,” has received numerous grants and awards for his work, including the Lakond Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Guggenheim Fellowship; commissions from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Fromm Foundation, the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Barlow Endowment, Meet-the-Composer USA, and New Music USA; fellowships from the Wellesley Composer's Conference and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts; and residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Bellagio, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the UCross Foundation, the Camargo Foundation, the Aaron Copland House, the Millay Colony, the Ragdale Foundation, the Montana Artists Refuge, the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians, the Hambidge Center, and the American Dance Festival, among others.

Tri-Stan, his sit-trag/one-woman opera on a text by David Foster Wallace, premiered by Sequitur in 2005, was hailed by the New York Times as “a blockbuster” and “a tour de force,” a work of “inspired weight” that “subversively inscribes classical music into pop culture.” In its review of the piece, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette concluded, “it is one of those rare works that transcends the cultural divide while still being rooted in both sides.” The work is available on a Koch International Classics compact disc. Strange Exclaiming Music, a CD featuring Moe’s recent chamber music, was released by Naxos in July 2009 as part of their American Classics series; Fanfare magazine described it as “wonderfully inventive, often joyful, occasionally melancholy, highly rhythmic, frequently irreverent, absolutely eclectic, and always high-octane music.” Kick & Ride, on the bmop/sound label, was picked by WQXR for album of the week: “…it’s completely easy to succumb to the beats and rhythms that come out of Moe’s fantastical imaginarium, a headspace that ties together the free-flowing atonality of Alban Berg with the guttural rumblings of Samuel Barber’s Medea, adding in a healthy dose of superhuman strength.” Other all-Moe CDs are available on New World Records (Meanwhile Back At The Ranch), Albany Records (Kicking and Screaming, Up & At ‘Em, Siren Songs), and Centaur (On the Tip of My Tongue). The Sienese Shredder, a fine arts journal, includes an all-Moe CD as part of its third issue.

As a pianist and keyboardist, Moe has premiered and performed works by a wide variety of composers. His playing can be heard on the Koch, CRI, Mode, Albany, New World Records and Innova labels in the music of John Cage, Roger Zahab, Marc-Antonio Consoli, Mathew Rosenblum, Jay Reise, Ezra Sims, David Keberle, Felix Draeseke, and many others in addition to his own. His solo recording The Waltz Project Revisited - New Waltzes for Piano, a CD of waltzes for piano by two generations of American composers, was released in 2004 on Albany. Gramophone magazine said of the CD, “Moe’s command of the varied styles is nothing short of remarkable.” A founding member of the San Francisco-based EARPLAY ensemble, he currently co-directs the Music on the Edge new music concert series in Pittsburgh. Moe studied composition at Princeton University (A.B.) and at the University of California at Berkeley (M.A., Ph.D.). He is currently the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Composition and Theory at the University of Pittsburgh and has held visiting professorships at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania. More information is available at his website,

Da Capo Chamber Players

Winners of the 1973 Naumburg Award, the internationally acclaimed Da Capo Chamber Players has worked closely with countless distinguished composers—bringing the group exciting insights from composers representing an enormous spectrum of compositional styles. Da Capo’s virtuoso artists bring years of creative involvement and artistic leadership to performances of today’s repertoire, including over 150 works written especially for the group from composers such as Joan Tower, John Harbison, Shulamit Ran, Valerie Coleman, Philip Glass, George Perle, Stephen Jaffe, Shirish Korde, Tania León, and Milton Babbitt, among many others. Leadership in diversity programming over the years has included major works by Wendell Logan, David Sanford, George Walker and many others.

In tour concerts and mini-residencies across the country, Da Capo works with young composers everywhere, giving them opportunities to try out things with highly experienced virtuoso performers as well as recordings (often award-winning!) of their works. The ensemble has been in residence at Bard College for almost four decades, and since 2006 has been Ensemble in Residence with the Composition Program of the Bard College Conservatory of Music. In May 2012, the Naumburg Foundation invited Da Capo to premiere works by their first ever composition winners. National Public Radio named Da Capo’s CD, Chamber Music of Chinary Ung on Bridge Records, as one of the 5 Best Contemporary Classical CDs of the year in 2010.

Da Capo currently plans a 50th Anniversary season! With an all-encompassing theme of DA CAPO BRIDGES, the series will feature new music bridging Eras, bridging Cultures, and bridging Styles. Each “bridge” represents a long- standing programming theme during our half-century!

Michael Lipsey

Percussionist Michael Lipsey has performed at festivals in Bali, London, Lisbon, Madrid, Berlin, Mexico City, Taipei, Macao, Tokyo, La Jolla, New York, Moscow, Bogota and France. Michael is the founding member of Talujon Percussion and has also performed with the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, Steve Reich, Bang on a Can, Tan Dun, New York New Music Ensemble and Riverside Symphony. He has recorded for Sony Records, Red Poppy Records, Nonesuch, Albany, Capstone and Mode. Michael has performed throughout the world and given master classes at numerous schools including the Juilliard School of Music and California School of the Arts.

Michael has also worked with many musicians from around the world, most recently including Gamelan Dharma Swara, a Balinese gamelan located in New York City. He performed with DS at the first American gamelan at the PKB in Denpasar, Bali. He has worked with musicians Subash Chandran, Ganesh Kumar, Glen Velez, Carlos Gomez, Antonio Hart, Roland Vasquez, and River Guerguerian. His book and solo CD contains recently commissioned works for solo hand drums by Jason Eckardt, River Guerguerian, Mathew Rosenblum, Arthur Kreiger, Eric Moe, Dominic Donato, David Cossin and David Rakowski.

Michael is a full-time Professor at the Aaron Copland School of Music at CUNY, Queens College and Director of the Percussion Program and the New Music Ensemble. As of 2019, he is the Chair of the Music Department.

David Russell

Hailed as "superb," “incisive," and "sonorous and panoramic” (Boston Globe), David Russell maintains a vigorous schedule both as soloist and as collaborator in the U.S. and Europe. He was appointed to the teaching faculty of Wellesley College in 2005 and currently serves as Lecturer and Director of Chamber Music. He has served as Principal cello of the orchestras of Odyssey Opera and Opera Boston since 2010 and performs regularly with many ensembles based in New England such as Cantata Singers and Ensemble, the Worcester Chamber Music Society and Emmanuel Music. A strong advocate of new music, Russell has performed and recorded with contemporary ensembles such as Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Firebird Ensemble, Ludovico Ensemble, Callithumpian Consort, Music on the Edge, Dinosaur Annex, Collage, the Fromm Players at Harvard, and entelechron. Recent projects include recordings of cello concertos by Chen Yi and Lukas Foss, recordings of solo and chamber works by Lee Hyla, Eric Moe, Tamar Diesendruck, Donald Crockett, Andrew Rindfleisch and Roger Zahab as well as premieres of music by David Lang, Barbara White, Marti Epstein, Daron Hagen, José-Luis Hurtado, Robert Carl, Gilda Lyons,and Jorge Martin. Russell has also recently premiered works for cello and orchestra by Laurie San Martin and Samuel Nichols, as well as works for solo cello by Tamar Diesendruck, Andrew Rindfleisch, and John Mallia. Russell has recorded for the Tzadik, Albany, BMOPSound, CRI, Centaur and New World Records labels.


In its twenty years of virtuosic performances and daring programming, the composer/performer collective counter)induction has established itself as a force of excellence in contemporary music. Hailed by The New York Times for its “fiery ensemble virtuosity” and for its “first-rate performances” by The Washington Post, c)i has given critically-acclaimed performances at Miller Theatre, Merkin Concert Hall, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Music at the Anthology, and the George Washington University. Since emerging in 1998 from a series of collaborations between composers at the University of Pennsylvania and performers at the Juilliard School, counter)induction has premiered numerous pieces by both established and emerging American composers; including Eric Moe, Suzanne Sorkin, Ursula Mamlok, and Lee Hyla. c)i has also widely promoted the music of international composers including Jukka Tiensuu, Gilbert Amy, Dai Fujikura, Diego Tedesco, and Elena Mendoza. Since its inception, c)i’s mission has been straightforward: world-class performances of contemporary chamber music, without hype and without agenda other than a complete commitment to the most compelling music of our day.

Benjamin Fingland

Benjamin Fingland interprets a diverse range of clarinet literature, with performances conveying “spiritedness and humor”, “unflagging precision and energy”, "eloquence and passion", "dazzling technique" (The New York Times) and playing described as “something magical” (The Boston Globe), “compellingly musical” (The New York Times) and “thoroughly lyrical…expert” (The Philadelphia Inquirer). A proponent of the music of our time, he works closely with living composers. In addition to being a founding member of the critically-acclaimed new music collective counter)induction, he plays with many leading contemporary performance ensembles: NOVUS NY, the International Contemporary Ensemble, the New York New Music Ensemble, the Network for New Music, the Argento Ensemble, the Locrian Chamber Players, and Sequitur. He is a member of the renowned Dorian Wind Quintet, which will soon celebrate 60 years of groundbreaking commissions and performances of wind chamber music. He has Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the Juilliard School and is on the faculty of the Third Street Music School Settlement in New York City.

Johnna Wu

johnna_wu_pic-2.jpgJohnna Wu is an active performer and improviser in North America, Europe, and Asia. She is the artistic director and founder of the electroacoustic ensemble PinkNoise. Her most recent appearances include performances at the University Museum of Contemporary Art in Mexico City, Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre, Carnegie Hall, the Berlin Philharmonie, Paris Philharmonie, and the Guangzhou Opera House. She graduated from Columbia University with a Bachelor of Arts with double degrees in Biology and Musicology, obtained a Master of Music degree in violin performance at The Juilliard School, and was a Fulbright Scholar in Germany. She serves on the faculty and is a co-curator for the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland.

Jessica Meyer

With playing that is “fierce and lyrical” and works that are “other-worldly” (The Strad) and “evocative” (The New York Times), Jessica Meyer is an award-winning composer and violist whose passionate musicianship radiates accessibility and emotional clarity. Meyer’s compositions viscerally explore the wide palette of emotionally expressive colors available to each instrument while using traditional and extended techniques inspired by her varied experiences as a contemporary and period instrumentalist. Since embarking on her composition career at the age of 40, premieres have included performances by GRAMMY-winning vocal ensembles Roomful of Teeth and Vox Clamantis, the St. Lawrence String Quartet as the composer in residence at Spoleto Festival USA, the American Brass Quintet, PUBLIQuartet, Sybarite 5, NOVUS NY of Trinity Wall Street, a work for A Far Cry commissioned by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, the Juilliard School for a project with the Historical Performance Program, and by the Lorelei Ensemble for a song cycle that received the Dale Warland Singers Commission Award from Chorus America. She has also received multiple commissioning awards from both Chamber Music America and the New York State Council on the Arts.

Her first Symphonic Band piece was commissioned and toured by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band (with a sold-out NY premiere in Carnegie Hall) and was a finalist for the William D. Revelli Composition Contest. Her orchestral works have been performed by the Phoenix, North Carolina, Charlotte, and Vermont Symphonies, the Nu Deco Ensemble in Miami, at Tanglewood in Seiji Ozawa Hall, and all around the country as part of Carnegie Hall’s nationwide Link Up Program. She was the winner of the 2nd Annual Ellis-Beauregard Foundation Composer’s Award to write a piece for the Bangor Symphony, and a winner of Chamber Music America’s Commissioning Program Award to write for the Argus Quartet. Recent premieres included works for the Dorian Wind Quintet, Hausmann Quartet, Hub New Music, the Portland Youth Philharmonic in collaboration with the female vocal ensemble In Mulieribus, and her viola concerto GAEA that she premiered alongside the Orchestra of the League of Composers at Miller Theatre in NYC. Upcoming premieres include works for the Bronx Arts Ensemble, the Brooklyn Art Song Society, the American Guild of Organists for their National 2024 Conference, and a new orchestral piece to be premiered by a consortium of orchestras across the United States. At home with many different styles of music, Jessica can regularly be seen as a soloist, premiering her chamber works, performing on Baroque viola, improvising with jazz musicians, or collaborating with other composer-performers. In 2023, she joined both the Viola and Chamber Music Faculty of the Manhattan School of Music.

Ning Yu

Praised for her, “taut and impassioned performance” by the New York Times, pianist Ning Yu performs with vigor and dedication for traditional and repertoire of the 20th and 21st century on stages across the United States, Europe and Asia. Ning brings virtuosity and adventurous spirit to a wide range of music, both in solo performances and in collaborations with some of today’s most distinguished creative artists.

Working at the forefront of the current creative music scene in the US, Ning has given dozens of world premieres by esteemed composers such as Tristan Murail, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, David Lang, Michael Gordon, Enno Poppe, and collaborated with artists from different genres such as Sufjan Stevens, Glenn Kotche, Pete Swanson, and Bryce Dessner. She has performed with ensembles such as Bang on A Can All-Stars, ICE, Talea Ensemble, Signal Ensemble, counter)induction, and she is a member of the highly regarded piano/percussion quartet Yarn/Wire.

Ning appears in concert halls, international festivals, universities, and other non-traditional performance spaces. These venues include Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Museum of Modern Art , Miller Theater, Guggenheim Museum, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Monday Evening Concerts in Los Angeles, Library of Congress, Issue Project Room, Pioneer Works, Contempo Concert Series at University of Chicago, the Kennedy Center, Kimmel Center, Köln Philharmonie in Germany, Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam, Kwe- Tsing Theater in Hong Kong, Spoleto Festival, Rainy Day Festival in Luxembourg, Ultima Festival in Norway, Transit Festival in Belgium, Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, Singapore International Arts Festival, Princeton University, Stanford University, Columbia University, Yale University, Brown University, and Eastman School of Music.

In theater, Ning performed with Mabou Mines’ Dollhouse — a critically acclaimed production directed by Lee Breuer. She can be seen in the production’s feature-film version, produced by ARTE France. Ning has also collaborated with director Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project on the development of the Tony Award–nominated play 33 Variations.

Ning is the winner of the Boucourechliev Prize at the Ninth International Concours de Orléans in France — a competition devoted to piano repertoire from 1900 to today. Together with other members of Yarn/Wire, the first-prize winner of Open Category of the International M-Prize Chamber Music Competition, and the prestigious “40 under 40 award” of the Stony Brook University for outstanding alumni.

Ning is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music (B.M. And M.M.A) and Stony Brook University (D.M.A.). She is assistant professor of piano and chamber music at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Ning currently resides in New York City with her husband and daughter. She is a Yamaha Artist.

Horszowski Trio

Giving performances that are “lithe, persuasive” (The New York Times) and “eloquent and enthralling” (The Boston Globe), the Horszowski Trio has quickly become a vital force in the international chamber music world since their formation in 2011. In 2019, they made their sold-out London debut presented by Wigmore Hall followed by a successful 21-concert tour of Germany. In 2023, the “Horszowski Trio Prize” was created by the prestigious Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, to encourage the next generation. The trio is based in NYC and named after the legendary pianist, Mieczyslaw Horszowski, with whom their pianist studied as his last pupil at the Curtis Institute of Music.

Jesse Mills

Since his solo debut at the prestigious Ravinia Festival in 2004, Jesse Mills has established a unique career, performing music from classical to contemporary, as well as composed and improvised music of his own invention. The Washington Post claimed, “Mills played [Messiaen] as if he'd just received it from some distant, vast and magnificent reach of the cosmos." A co-founder of Duo Prism, with pianist Rieko Aizawa, they earned 1st Prize at the 2006 Zinetti International Competition. He is also a founding member of the Horszowski Trio, which since its formation in 2011 has concertized all over the US as well as internationally, including concert tours of Japan, Hong Kong, India, Germany, and a sold-out debut at Wigmore Hall in London. Mills is a graduate of the Juilliard School.



Avant Music News

The six compositions on Strenuous Pleasures, an album of recent chamber music by composer Eric Moe, are consistently finely crafted works organized around intricately interwoven rhythms embodied in contrasting instrumental colors. This is exemplified by the title track, composed in 2010 for clarinet, violin, cello, piano, flute, and percussion. The piece opens with a perpetual motion rhythmic counterpoint distributed among the strings and winds, pushed along by a prominent snare drum. A quiet middle section is held in a tense equilibrium by pulsing piano part, after which the piece returns to a strong, syncopated forward motion riding on the sounds of a drum kit. Spirit Mountain for flute, oboe and English horn, bassoon, piano and percussion, is also from 2010 and plays out along similar lines but with a focus on the sometimes subtle timbral differences separating the various winds. Welcome to Phase Space (2014) for piano trio is a more conventionally lyrical piece highlighting Moe’s handling of melody, but it too contains an undercurrent of compressed rhythmic energy thanks to an insistent, almost nagging, piano part. Deep Ecology, an electroacoustic piece composed in 2020 for cello and fixed media, is something of an outlier. Its focus is largely on melody and atmosphere, with cellist David Russell playing a somber opening statement over a skittering and burbling backdrop of field recordings and instrumental sounds. After having established a reflective mood in this way the piece turns around to pick up a rhythmic urgency as it unfolds, the cello doing its part by contributing rapid tremolo bowing over recorded percussion.

The album also includes Demon Theory (2013) for piano and alto saxophone, and 2015’s What Instruments We Have Agree, for bass clarinet, violin, viola, and piano.

— Daniel Barbiero, 11.15.2023



Matters of music and its meanings are also paramount in some of the works on a (+++) New Focus Recordings release featuring chamber pieces by Eric Moe (born 1954). Unlike Weston’s work, those by Moe fall into the now-standard approach of many contemporary composers: often highly dissonant, stylistically combinatorial, and tied tightly to non-musical matters as well as some musical ones. Spirit Mountain (2010) and What Instruments We Have Agree (2015) are both memorial pieces, the former for conductor J. Karla Lemon and the latter for composer Lee Hyla. Both incorporate and expand upon specific music that listeners are unlikely to know, even if they are familiar with the people whom Moe memorializes. Both works use chamber groups mainly as collections of individual instruments rather than ensembles, with Moe mostly proffering short bursts of melody and rhythmic activity that are colored by the specific instruments playing them. The tie-in of these pieces to works directly associated with Lemon and Hyla means the music will have considerably more meaning for those who know the referents than for more-casual audiences. The other pieces on this disc refer to various non-musical matters that it is also helpful to know about for better comprehension and enjoyment of what Moe has created. Strenuous Pleasures (2010) contrasts brighter and faster multi-instrument elements with quieter ones, placing solo and duet sections against full-chamber-ensemble ones. Welcome to Phase Space (2014) is a trio (violin/cello/piano) with a somewhat Ligeti-ish evocation of interstellar vastness, based on a concept from physics. Also here are a duet and a solo work. The two-instrument work is Demon Theory (2013) for alto saxophone and piano: Moe himself is the pianist, and Elliot Riley, who commissioned the piece, is the saxophonist. This work also draws on physics in a way, referring to a thought experiment involving connected energy systems that Moe considers to be akin to the connectedness of the two instruments – a rather abstruse formulation that, like so many elements associated with Moe’s music, is best understood prior to hearing the work so as to be better able to absorb it. The solo piece here is Deep Ecology (2020) for cello (David Russell), although it is not quite a solo, since it incorporates electroacoustic material that in fact tends to dominate the instrument: the usual sounds of nature (birds, frogs, insects) intersect with those of the cello, which comments on and interweaves with them, suggesting ways in which humans interact with the rest of the world. The sonic environment of all these pieces is forthrightly contemporary, the performances committed and engaged with the material – but everything here is an illustration of or exploration of something that is not here, that is external to the music itself, that needs to be studied and understood for Moe’s works to have anything approaching the effect he wishes them to have.

— Mark Estren, 11.16.2023

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